QR3.9.2 The Measurement Problem

The quantum measurement problem is that:

The full quantum wave function of an electron itself is not directly observable…(Lederman & Hill, 2004) p240

Nature’s firewall separates us from quantum reality because any attempt to observe a quantum wave collapses it to a physical event, which raises the problem that quantum science is based on what cannot be directly observed. This issue was raised last century and this century is no different:

The history of the quantum measurement paradox is fascinating. There is still no general agreement on the matter even after eighty years of heated debate.” (Laughlin, 2005) p49.

Can a theory about what can’t be observed be science? On the one hand is the view that only “…what impinges on us directly is real.” (Mermin, 2009, p9), so quantum theory describes the unreal. On the other hand, is the fact that this description of “unreal” quantum states is the most successful theory in the history of physics. One might argue that:

1. Quantum theory is supposed to be part of science,

2. Science is only about what we can physically observe,

3. We can’t physically observe quantum waves, so quantum theory isn’t science!

If science was entirely about what we observe physically then quantum theory wouldn’t be a science, but actually assumption#2 above is logical positivism masquerading as an axiom of science, which it is not. Logical positivism is actually the naive nineteenth century fallacy that science describes only physical things. Actually, science is based on Locke and Hume’s empiricism, that scientific theories be tested by physical feedback, so quantum theory is a science because it predicts physical events, regardless of what it describes. There is no requirement in science that the constructs of theories must represent physical things, e.g. there is no evidence that gravity is physical but Einstein’s theory of gravity is science.

History supports this conclusion, as logical positivism has failed every discipline that has tried it, e.g. behaviorism tried to reduce psychology to physical acts until Chomsky showed this was impossible for language. In computing, positivism would reduce everything to hardware and ignore software, human-computer-interaction and the social causes behind systems like Twitter. In many ways, physics is the last bastion of positivism, the idea that only physical events “really” exist, but this is not sustainable.

The problem with positivism is that it tries to ignore the observer, when the evidence is that our reality is always an observer-observed interaction, so to ignore the observer is to ignore half of reality. In this view, the observer is fundamental to our reality and can be defined as the final destination of the information delivered in any physical event. Even physics requires an observer, as quantum collapse needs an observer and relativity demands an observer frame of reference. Attempts to “ban” the observer from science just don’t work because the observer is always part of our reality.

In quantum realism, the measurement problem is a basic property of reality rather than a problem, as the quantum world observes itself to create the physical world as a set of views. Physical reality arises when quantum reality is interrogated, just as a click in a game produces a view. The long-sought boundary between the classical and quantum worlds is the “click” of observation.

As Kant said, we only ever see a phenomenon not the noumenon or “thing in itself” (Kant, 2002, p392). Taking physical phenomena as real and quantum noumena as unreal was the wrong turn that led physics into the scientific desert of physical realism.